Applying problems during degree


Does anyone have any experience or advice about applying for a PhD after having problems in their personal lives which affected their degree?

More specifically, has anyone had to intermit from their degree, then came back (had a separate lot of major problems) and so got a lower mark in their second year than they were capable of (but still a good 2:1).

I really want to go on and do a neuroscience 3+1 PhD but am worried everything I have been through will mean that universities won't even look at me as a potential candidate.


Hey Lh245, I haven't had exactly the same experience as you, but I had to drop out of my first degree and then second year of my second attempt at an undergrad degree due to severe mental health problems, and then re-started second year again the following year. I got a first in the end anyway, but it does look on my CV as though I've taken an extra year to complete and I don't particularly like to advertise the fact that I dropped out because I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital! If you're on a good 2.1 now then chances are you will finish on a good 2.1 or even a first, so don't be too hard on yourself. Quite aside from that, a good 2.1 makes you a good enough candidate for a PhD anyway. My supervisor even wrote on one of my PhD appplications (and I got the PhD!) that I had showed 'remarkable resilience in dealing with personal problems' so maybe something good can come out of it! You might find people are more sympathetic than you think- that has certainly been my experience. Good luck! KB


Thanks Keenbean, actually to begin with it was something similar, I took the year out because of mental health problems and then when I came back had major personal problems and in addition more health problems which resulted in an operation a few weeks before the end of year exams after months of pain.  Hopefully I will be able to put a positive spin on it all, and the comment of showing remarkable resilience is a good one and very true. It is reassuring that at least someone has been through something similar and managed to come through it all as well.


Hi there,

My story: I had bad personal problems in the final year of my undergrad degree and just missed out on a 2:1. Because of only getting a 2:2, I had to go and do a Masters to "top up" my grades. On my MSc, those problems (also a combination of mental health issues and personal problems) continued for the whole year. I scraped through with a low pass and abandoned the thought of academia. I worked for three years which built up my confidence and suddenly, just when I thought I'd never go back, applied for my perfect PhD. Unfortunately the supervisors wouldn't accept industry references, only academic ones. My heart really sank: both my MSc and BSc supervisors wrote references saying that I was intelligent but my grades didn't reflect my ability at all.

During my PhD interview, one of my supervisors asked me to explain the comments on my references and I had to stop myself from actually crying in the interview. I said that I had dealt with my family and personal problems (which is true), and that they made me stronger, and made me far more committed than if I hadn't been through them (again, this true), and that I agreed that my grades don't reflect my ability at all.

I came out the interview and burst into tears. A few hours later they phoned up, and offered me the place.

All in all... what I went through really didn't hold me back. I'm glad I was honest with my supervisors in the interview, they didn't judge me at all. On my first day they both alluded to various difficult times they've had in their professional careers. I'm glad that I could be honest about it and see that they picked me, flaws and all, for my perfect project... and that I never have to hide anything, or be afraid of what they might find out: I can just get on with my work and feel safe. They aren't going to judge me. Not only that... I'm even glad of everything that's happened to me because it's made me certain about what I want to do, and bad experiences in the past have just made me stronger and more committed to the research I want to do. I also know that I can survive anything, which I suspect I'm going to need to draw on over and over throughout the next three years...